Wheeler District developer Blair Humphreys has suggested Board Chair Paula Lewis caused an application for the development’s new charter school application to be reset for another 90 days.
Western Gateway Elementary School (WGES) is planned as a dual-immersion school that would have an equal number of English-proficient and Spanish-proficient students.
The district has taken the stance that the school, as currently designed, would violate federal anti-discrimination laws.
But, in a May 8, 2019 letter to the OKCPS Board and community at large, Humphreys accuses Lewis of influencing the process that caused the district to reset the application for another 90 days.
In a phone interview with Free Press Friday, Lewis denied steering the process.
The reset will result in the Board taking action on the application no sooner than July 13 instead of at tonight’s meeting as the developer expected.
In Humphrey’s letter, he says that he suspects Lewis has caused the district to reset the timeline rather than staff or the committees assigned to the task of reviewing charter school applications.
“We are concerned that this reversal of course is not related to the merits of the two-way dual immersion school or the interests of the students it will serve, but instead is related to our refusal to comply with demands made by OKCPS Chair Paula Lewis,” Humphreys wrote.
The signed letter goes on to say that Lewis had called the developer, Blair Humphreys about his father’s stance on a proposed non-discrimination policy proposal at John Rex School, a charter approved by OKCPS.
The date of the call was not specified in the letter. Lewis believes it is a conversation she had with Humphreys over a year ago when there was controversy about whether the John Rex Board and Kirk Humphreys would approve the district’s non-discrimination policy.
“Before the formal application process for the Western Gateway Elementary School began Paula Lewis made an unsolicited call to WGES board member Blair Humphreys.”
The letter goes on to accuse Lewis of a “quid pro quo” demand on Humphreys in order to gain her support for his new dual-immersion charter school idea that would be connected to the Wheeler District being developed in the old Downtown Air Park site just south of the Oklahoma River on S. Western
From Humphrey’s letter:
During the call, Lewis made clear that she would not be agreeable to the WGES proposal for a new dual immersion elementary school unless Blair’s father Kirk Humphreys, a member of the John Rex Board, complied with her demand for him to support the immediate adoption of the OKCPS non-discrimination policy at John Rex. Chair Lewis emphasized that in her view, it was not okay to move forward with the dual immersion school unless she received the changes she wanted at John Rex – that the two were attached.
Lewis denies accusation
In a phone interview with Free Press, Lewis denied that there was any sort of quid pro quo demand connecting Kirk Humphreys’s support for the nondiscrimination policy at John Rex School and her support for WGES.
“I had a conversation with Blair Humphreys asking for his support of the policy change at John Rex last year when the controversy was going on,” said Lewis. “But there was no demand connected with the Western Gateway Elementary idea.”
“It’s not me not liking what Kirk Humphreys said that’s keeping this off the agenda,” said Lewis.
Lewis pointed out that with a new policy the board established after her election as Chair, four members of the board can force an agenda item to be added to the Board agenda without her agreement.
She said that there were problems with the application and how it had evolved over time. And so, Superintendent Sean McDaniels had recommended the application be reset so that the WGES application could be re-written to comply with federal non-discrimination law.
District Chief Communications Officer Beth Harrison forwarded a statement by McDaniel that has been sent to those organizing WGES.
McDaniel’s letter gives the reasoning for resetting the application:
Since 2016, representatives of OKCPS have repeatedly voiced concerns to the founders of Western Gateway charter school that discrimination based on language proficiency in a charter school admissions process is illegal. On March 14, 2019, after receiving the initial application for charter, my team met with representatives from Western Gateway to once again address these concerns and were led to believe that changes would be made to alleviate any issues related to student admissions. However, during their public presentation to our Board of Education on April 8, 2019, Western Gateway had once again reverted to potentially discriminatory admissions practices. Their inconsistent message has led us to require Western Gateway to submit a new and legally-compliant charter application that clearly delineates their commitment to state and federal non-discrimination practices. We look forward to our continued relationship with our charter community as we provide quality choices and equitable educational opportunities for OKCPS students and families.
Dr. Sean McDaniel
Superintendent of Schools
Legal problems with the application?
The WGES amended application was submitted to the district April 19, 2019.
OKCPS legal counsel Jessica R. Sherrill sent a letter to WGES attorney William Hickman on April 25 explaining the reasoning behind the district’s decision to reset the 90-day application process.
“Our review team identified legal concerns within the application, which without remedy, would fail to be in compliance with state and federal law and would require automatic denial,” the letter said in the first bullet point.
The next point focused on what the district saw as the biggest problem with the application:
“Most notably, the application hinged on student admission for the school based on language spoken and language proficiency in English or Spanish.”
The letter points to potential violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “which prohibits discrimination for proficiency of English language, race and national origin.”
Hickman responded that there are numerous examples of dual-immersion schools across the U.S. that do not violate Title VI.
He also challenged other points of Sherrill’s reasoning about the reset.
He requested that the application be considered on May 13 as originally planned.
Board meeting May 13th
The application for the school is not on the published agenda for tonight’s board meeting, May 13.
But, since Humphreys was trying to rally community support for consideration tonight it is unclear if Humphreys or any of the supporters will be present at the meeting to demonstrate their support.
Attempts to reach Blair Humphreys on Friday, May 10 and Monday, May 13 were unsuccessful.
See documents cited in this story below.
Correction: The original version of this report said Lewis’s conversation in question over a year ago was with Kirk Humphreys. It has been corrected to reflect that the conversation was with Blair Humphreys.